There aren’t many countries that can truly say that they offer everything to the tourist. Morocco though, most definitely can. From the soaring peaks of the high Atlas mountains, to windswept sandy beaches, and rolling sand dunes in the Sahara, the landscapes are stunning and varied. Throw in ancient cities, a distinct and delectable cuisine, and the fact that it’s a shopper’s paradise, you can see why it holds such an appeal for so many travellers. Morocco had captured my imagination for a long time before I went there. I sensed my chance to finally go when I got a job in southern Spain in 2011. As soon as I arrived in Andalusia, I was dreaming of what lay across the straits of Gibraltar. The opportunity arose when we had a week off work for Semana Santa, Spain’s Easter week holidays.
Our journey started in our home city of Cordoba. From there we took the train to Algeciras, and then a local bus to Tarifa, where we boarded our ferry to Tangier. There was something gloriously exciting and old-fashioned about travelling between continents by ship. Upon arrival, we checked in at the Hotel Continental, which overlooked the port. The hotel had an air of faded grandeur, which added to the feeling of old-fashioned travel. It was probably THE place to stay in Tangier in a bygone era. After a while, we braved the labyrinthine streets of Tangier’s medina and our senses were assaulted in every way. This was our first taste of North Africa, and the Arab world, and it probably showed. An old man who was dressed like Yoda approached us. Upon hearing that we were from Manchester, he proceeded to tell us that he was a personal friend of Bobby Charlton and had guided him round Tangier in the 1960s. It was almost certainly nonsense but it was highly amusing. After he had finished regaling us with his tales, and quibbling about the tip we gave him, he took us to a local restaurant, which in fairness to Yoda was absolutely outstanding. The subtly spiced Moroccan cuisine would continue to work its magic on us for the entire week.
The next day we left Tangier and headed to Chefchaouen, the blue city in the Rif Mountains. There we stayed at a hostel called Rif for anyone, or Dar Scotlandee to the locals, in reference to the Scottish couple that owned the place. Terry and Suzanne, and their son Liam, were superbly hospitable and had what could be best described as a relaxed and libertarian approach to life. Other than exploring the blue painted medina, the thing to do in Chefchaouen is hike. There are a number of superb trails in the Rif Mountains. Unfortunately for us, bad weather (which was to follow us round for our entire trip) scuppered these plans so three days in Chefchaouen was probably one too many.
Our next destination was Fez. I’ve done a lot of travelling and consequently taken a lot of bus journeys. This was up there with the very worst of them. Admittedly, I’ve never driven a bus. However, for my money, the best way to approach tight winding mountain roads that are covered in potholes, is to take it slowly and carefully. Our bus driver clearly didn’t agree. His approach was to drive like an absolute madman, tearing round each corner at terrifying speeds. All round the bus people were being sick. It was one of the longest five hours of my life!
Fez, when we finally arrived there, was worth all the tortures inflicted on the journey. Going into the medina was like stepping back in time several hundred years. While we were exploring, we were approached by a young man named Hassan, who offered his cousin’s services for a trip to Volubilis. Against every traveller’s instinct we said yes. It turned out to be the best decision we made in our time there. The day trip was the undoubted highlight of our holiday. Volubilis is a remarkably well preserved set of Roman ruins, located about 100 kilometres from Fez. Due to Janey’s archaeological background this was one of the things that she was most looking forward to in Morocco. It certainly didn’t disappoint. The weather conspired against us again though. When we arrived at the ruins, the skies were blue. Within a few minutes, they had turned to black and a thunderous downpour ensued. At times it felt more like we were in North Wales than North Africa! The other two destinations that we visited on our day trip provided an interesting contrast. The small town of Moulay Idriss is auspicious for Muslims. However, it didn’t feel very welcoming to tourists and we were glad to be back in the car after a few minutes. Meknes on the other hand was a delight. The buildings were charming and we ate some spectacular street food for an obscenely low price. Said, Hassan’s cousin, also proved to be an excellent driver and guide.
After the tour, we were left with one more day in Fez. Janey, who had been holding back until now, went in search of souvenirs. I normally hate shopping with a passion but in Fez it was awesome! In Morocco haggling is obligatory and I loved it. Every transaction gave me the chance to test my skills against a true expert of the art. Overall, I think I did quite well. My haggling skills probably saved us a total of about fifty euros which is not a bad result when battling with the best!
Before we arrived back in Spain, there was time for one more challenge. We needed to get an overnight train from Fez to Tangier, so as to get the morning ferry back to Tarifa. This was made particularly tricky by our Riad’s refusal to organise a taxi for us. Therefore, we had to venture out into the Fez night to find one for ourselves. Thankfully after a few minutes we were successful, and all I had to do was stay awake until we had to change trains at Sidi Kacem. Eighteen hours after leaving the Riad we arrived back at our flat in Cordoda. This journey seemed to encapsulate our entire trip to Morocco. It was hard work, absolutely exhausting but utterly exhilarating.
In Fez we stayed at a Riad called Riad Lalla Fatima. Upon first glance it looked beautiful. However, it turned out to be a dreadful place to stay. Firstly, at no other hotel or hostel in the world have the staff told me that they can’t organise a taxi, no matter what time I was leaving. Furthermore, on our final night we ordered a home cooked meal. Janey has been vegetarian for nearly twenty years. She was therefore highly distressed, and violently sick, when she discovered that her vegetarian couscous had chicken in it. Instead of apologising for the mistake, the staff had the gall to deny the visibly obvious. If I gave this place a 1 out of 10 rating it would be generous. Don’t stay there.